Tuesday Ten: 250: Tracks of the Month (February 1996)

So. Tuesday Ten 250 is quite a milestone to reach, I guess. As well as that, 2016 marks twenty years since I began writing about music, with my first review in ROAR (a publication much-changed nowadays, by the looks of things) in my first weeks as a student in September/October 1996.

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A few weeks ago I began thinking about songs that were released around the time that I started – and it quickly expanded, as I realised just how many great songs and albums there were that year, into a huge list of what I bought and listened to that year, and in some cases only came to appreciate later on. Then I opened up the question to Facebook, which extended the list even further.

As a result, to mark twenty years of music writing, I’m going to run a “tracks of the month” parallel to the usual one each month until later in the year, looking at what I might have written about in 1996. It will run broadly chronologically, the only ones “out of order” will be ones where I don’t have the correct release dates for them.

This first ten are broadly January releases, with a few into February.

The Chemical Brothers
Get Up On It Like This
Loops of Fury EP
15-January 1996

Probably the first notable release of 1996 was this stellar EP from the-then up-and-coming dance group of the time. Exit Planet Dust had previously set them on the way, but their real success would come with the 1997 release of Dig Your Own Hole. This interim release whetted the appetite for sure, but more than anything was notable for the storming, six-minute breakbeat downhill-slalom of Get Up On It Like This, that careers off in various directions but is held together by a glorious funk sample (John Schroeder’s take on Money Runner) that provides the hooks and much of the rhythm. The much shorter, much-changed version that later appeared on Dig Your Own Hole never even came close.

Tori Amos
Mr. Zebra
Boys For Pele
22-January 1996

Following the breakthrough success of Under The Pink, at the time I remember many of us – me included – were somewhat underwhelmed by this album. A lengthy, lush album that was far more “busy” instrumentally than what had come before, it also didn’t have the immediacy that perhaps we’d expected – which might have had something to do with the cryptic, detailed lyrics. Over the years, though, I’ve grown to like more of this album, and it certainly has some great high points (the definitive version of Muhammed My Friend came later, though – the extraordinary live take with Maynard James Keenan). Bizarrely, though, one of the most-loved songs from this is the shortest, and the most mad. Seriously – Mr Zebra is a minute of Tori’s voice, piano and the brass of the Black Dyke Mills Band, coupled with lyrics seemingly from a deep and crazy psychdelic episode with a group of friendly animals. It makes no sense whatsoever, but is quite charming and is also a hell of an earworm.

The Smashing Pumpkins
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
22-January 1996

Yes, Mellon Collie… was released in autumn 1995. But 1979 is such a glorious song that it’s release as a single in the first month of January 1996 merits it’s inclusion here. This song was notable for a few reasons, but most of all for being the first time the band really reined things in, Billy Corgan finally understanding that in some cases “less is more” and the results were amazing. A simple, propulsive beat, gentle guitar riffs, subtle synths and Corgan’s soaring vocals (that chorus!). It’s fair to say, I think, that this was the song that changed the opinion of many about this band. For me, though, it was just yet another reason to love them.

Stabbing Westward
Wither Blister Burn & Peel
22-January 1996

Ok, so it wasn’t as good as Ungod. But it was still way better than Darkest Days (and let’s not talk about the self-titled fourth album). In some respects, though, it was simply a continuation of the darkness of Ungod – this was an(other) album about the darkest reaches of human nature, but more specifically about the effects of that darkness upon their victims. Shame was one of the obvious examples of this – Christopher Hall taking on the persona of an obsessive ex-partner, with creepy lyrics suggesting all is very much not well – and the video provides more evidence of this. Musically, the industrial rock sound is very NIN, in some respects, yes, but that synth hook is still awesome (and the track has quite a propulsive power, too).

Death In Vegas
Brit Hop and Amyl House
22-January 1996

The “big beat” scene in London in the mid-to-late 90s was a whole lot of fun (and was the first clubbing movement I got involved in). Of a few great compilations that came out of it, this was the best by miles – a DJ mix of a compilation (reportedly by Tom Rowlands, although not credited on the CD) that was full of absolute bangers. Some were already dancefloor classics (the belting Leftfield remix of Renegade Soundwave, basically the best remix of the nineties, being one), while others were fairly new, like the hulking, stomping power of Death In Vegas’ debut single Dirt. Shorn of the dub-reggae influences that permeated much of the Dead Elvis album that was released later in the spring, Dirt instead sampled part of the infamous speech from Woodstock that announced the festival was free from that point on, had dirty, dirty guitar riffage, and a heavy, thundering beat that sounded phenomenal on a really loud system. Like all so-called “Big Beat”, to appreciate it properly you needed a system with enough bass power to level buildings. Death In Vegas went on to became one of the most lauded acts of the time with their stellar Contino Sessions album a couple of years later, but it’s easy to forget that they started out with impressive material in the first place.

Dimmu Borgir
25-January 1996

The release that gave my extreme metal night in Sheffield it’s name, and the title track from this album at least has held up well (I have to confess I prefer the perfect balance of blasting black metal and bombast of Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and Death Cult Armageddon). This was before they really had the backing to afford the marvellously over-the-top production of later albums, but the potential was clearly there – soaring choirs of backing vocals, stirring string samples and howling, melodic vocals over technical, but accessible black metal.

Filth Pig
29-January 1996

Four years after the massive success of Psalm 69, the backlash against Filth Pig was immense. There was little of the anthemic power of what had come before, admittedly, and maybe we could call this one a “grower”. The opener was a killer from the start, though – Reload was a short, staccato burst of rippling power that nodded back to Ministry of before (stop-start dynamics like this had been used a few times before by Jourgensen and Barker), but it was also clear that the overall sound was aiming more in a metal direction. Aside from this song, though – and let’s never mention the Dylan cover again, mmmkay? – this album remains a difficult album to love by my reckoning, and frankly I prefer The Dark Side of the Spoon.

Millions Now Living Will Never Die
29-January 1996

Out of all of the post-rock albums that were released in the mid-to-late-90s – and there were an awful lot of them – none of them quite went in the same direction as Tortoise. Chicago natives just as interested in jazz and krautrock, electronics and dub, as they were “rock”, by the time of this extraordinary album they had recruited David Pajo (of post-rock pioneers Slint, who took years to get their due themselves), and this album…opened minds. A forty-two minute, six-track album, exactly half of which was the titanic opener Djed. A sinuous bassline underpins the first half, as it twists and turns through various melodies, stuttering beats, and pulsing electronics; while the second half is a pretty chiming melody before it is cut to ribbons by a barrage of digital effects. Not to everyones taste – but this kind of post-rock never was – but of the first wave of the genre, this track was one of the crowning achievements.

Front Line Assembly
Plasticity EP
04-February 1996

Re-released – along with the exceptional Hard Wired album, Live Wired live release and the Circuitry EP recently by Artoffact, this has become for many one of the ultimate FLA tracks (and has been an ever-present in their live sets since it was released). It isn’t hard to see why – the thundering beats (the intro is absolutely pummelled by three or four of the band, all on drums, live) and multi-layered synths, the ominous, heavily-distorted vocals and of course the samples (mainly from Timecop and In The Mouth of Madness) all come together to make for an evergreen, punishing dancefloor-bound monster (at nearly seven-minutes, it’s also a quick way to exhaust a dancefloor, too)!.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals
Come Find Yourself
Come Find Yourself
20-February 1996

Listening to this again for the first time in a long time recently, two things became clear quickly. One, it hasn’t dated half as much as I thought it might have done and two, it’s still a lot of fun. Part of that is down to the fact that the band are very much wrapping themselves in a persona here, one that arguably wouldn’t have been anywhere near as popular as it was had it not been for Quentin Tarantino’s films having blown up in the few years before (Scooby Snacks, of course, samples certain memorable moments from Pulp Fiction). But as well as that, in adopting this fantasy ideal of being “cool” New York gangsters, they backed up this with a ton of great songs, some of which were pop hits, others, like the title track, were gloriously laid-back, mellowed-out moments best enjoyed in a smoke-filled room.

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